January was a painfully slow month in the transfer market, with clubs across Europe still struggling financially as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In England – a country where some of the world’s richest clubs ply their trade – things were no different, as January was the most uneventful mid-season transfer window on record in the Premier League.

In fact, throughout the entire top flight in England, there were just 26 signings last month – just over half the number of purchases that were made in the same period last season – with clubs choosing to stick with what they’ve got rather than splashing the cash on new players.

Considering many clubs are struggling as a result of lost ticket sales, it wasn’t exactly a huge surprise to see them taking more of a pragmatic approach. But as well as the financial issues created by the ongoing pandemic, is there another reason the Premier League clubs’ failure to get new recruits through the door last month?

In the UK, throughout the Brexit leave/remain debate, much of the discussions centred around the economy. Other points of contention included the fishing industry, as well as food standards and the bureaucratic nature of the European Union. But one thing that was rarely considered in Britain – if at all – was the impact leaving the EU would have on British football clubs, and in particular their ability to sign players from Europe.

After formally leaving the EU on January 1st this year, it’s now becoming clear what the split means for football transfers in Britain. With a litany of new rules and tighter regulation put in place, Brexit is already causing recruitment issues for some managers, some of which hadn’t anticipated what was to come.

New rules proving problematic for managers

Perhaps nobody exemplifies the failure to see how Brexit could impact British transfers quite like West Brom manager Sam Allardyce, who might now be regretting his decision to vote to leave.

Asked in 2018 how he’d voted in the referendum, ‘Big Sam’ blasted the EU and said it was time the UK left the trading bloc: “I am out,” Allardyce told the Sun newspaper. “My feeling is that the European Union isn’t doing the United Kingdom any favours.”

However, after getting his wish and seeing the UK formally complete its withdrawal from the EU on January 1st, Allardyce was surprised to find new rules put in place meant purchasing players from Europe was now much trickier than before.

“I have found three players already who were capable of coming here and were not allowed,” he told reporters after seeing his side slump to another defeat last month. “It’s a shame. Due to new regulations in terms of the permit they were unable to come to this country, whereas previously they would have done. I have to look at that and think ‘can he qualify?’”

The regulation Allardyce mentions promises to be a real hurdle for some transfers moving forward. Whereas before British clubs could complete European transfers with relative ease, now every player coming from Europe requires a work permit. This could see the collapse of many deals that would have previously been possible.

Moreover, while all potential transfers will now require additional paperwork, the signing of U-18 internationals has been banned all-together. New rules say that a player must be over the age of 18 in order to complete a transfer to or from a UK-based club, meaning many transfers such as the Cesc Fabregas to Arsenal deal or, more recently, Jadon Sancho to Borussia Dortmund would no longer be permitted.

This could well prove beneficial to clubs in Italy, as young Italian prospects who may have had their heads turned by the allure of the Premier League and the huge salaries on offer will now be prevented from moving.

Promising for National Teams

Although the ban on U-18 European transfers will prevent British clubs from scooping up European prodigies which over time could impact the quality of the game at club level, for the British national sides the new restrictions could be a real blessing in disguise.

While tighter regulation could harm the transfer plans of managers and mean the days of signing European wonderkids are over, this should now mean young homegrown British talent has more of a chance to prosper with less competition from overseas.

With young players of English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish heritage afforded more of a chance to develop their skills at the academy stage, this should mean the quality of the talent coming through will eventually improve. This could well be the boost England needs to finally secure that elusive first international trophy since the World Cup way back in 1966.

Will clubs start to look elsewhere?

What might be good news for European clubs looking to keep their best players out of the clutches of the Premier League might be bad news for South American sides. That’s because it’s been predicted that with more hurdles in place for British clubs trying to sign European players, they may now turn their attention to Latin America instead. For the South American sides hoping to hold onto their young talent for as long as possible, they might find doing so increasingly difficult if the big clubs from Britain come looking for new recruits.

For fans of the English leagues who like to watch skilful players in action, though, this might not be such a bad thing as an influx of South Americans to the Premier League and lower divisions could add even more excitement to the game.

The top leagues in England are already packed full of talent from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, but more could be set to join the likes of Sergio Aguero and Edinson Cavani as British clubs are forced to go elsewhere now that many European transfers are wrapped in red tape.

With Britain’s formal exit from the European Union only officially rubberstamped last month, these are still early days, so it’s difficult to fully predict how this will affect both the transfer market and the development of homegrown players moving forward. Over time the picture should become a little clearer, but if the first transfer window since the UK’s withdrawal has demonstrated anything, it’s that recruiting players from Europe is about to get much more difficult.

Just ask Sam Allardyce.